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Colin Jones was born into a working class family in East London in 1936. He was evacuated during the war, moving schools at least thirteen times before he turned fifteen. Jones suffered from dyslexia, and this lack of stable schooling left him unable to read or write. He was talent-spotted as a teenager, taking up ballet lessons aged sixteen, and joining the Royal Ballet soon after.
Jones bought his first camera, a Leica 3C rangefinder, in 1958 whilst on tour with the company in Japan. He began to take intimate backstage photographs of the ballet dancers around him. In 1961 Jones was back in Britain, touring northern Britain with the ballet. He was fascinated by the landscape they passed and documented the spoil heaps and traditional mining communities he encountered. These images later formed part of his famous book The Grafters, and solidified his importance as a documentary photographer.
After The Grafters, Jones went on to become an accomplished photojournalist and went on to work successfully for the Observer and the Sunday Times. He produced numerous photo essays and two books.
His series The Black House, made between 1973 and 1976, documented a community project in North London, intended to house vulnerable youths, many of them second-generation Caribbean migrants, who were discriminated against by local authorities, and who, as a result, struggled to stay in school or keep jobs. Jones spent months building up the trust of those who lived in the house and photographed them with empathy. The series resulted in a memorable exhibition of the same name, which was shown at the Photographers Gallery in 1977 before touring nationally before being vandalised in Leicester.
Publications and Exhibitions
In 1998 Martin Harrison published Young Meteors, which spotlighted British photographic talent and placed Jones alongside other important photographers such as Don McCullin and Terence Donovan. Colin Jones’ work has been published in LIFE, and National Geographic, as well as many supplements for the major broadsheets. He has had solo exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC and at the Photographers Gallery, London. His work is held in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Arts Council England.